Shibli’s Safarnamah: Episodes On his Visit to Ottoman Beirut
Present Progress, Clothing
In an earlier episode, we had had portrayed Shibli’s first impressions of Beirut while his ship had docked there for a few hours, on 16 May, 1892 on his way to Constantinople. In this episode, Shibli shares his impressions of the people of Beirut and the beauty of the city. He briefly touches upon the history of Beirut including the first Islamic conquest of the land in the thirteenth year of the Hijra. He reveals that Beirut kept reverting back to Christian control thereafter, till the Ottoman Sultan, Selim-I, conquered it in the year 1517 CE, from which date onwards it had remained under Ottoman control. Allama Shibli mentions about the clothes worn and the fact that the Arabic language is spoken by a vast majority of the populace irrespective of their religion. Invariably, Shibli does not fail to mention the wonderous coffee shops in the city, just as he mentioned about the coffee shops in Constantinople and Cairo. In conclusion of this short episode, Shibli quotes the famous Arabic poet, Mutanabbi, on Beirut and its environs: And the steep mountains of Lebanon. How shall they be crossed? For it is winter. And their summer is winter. In the next episode, Shibli speaks on the literary achievements of the Christians of Beirut and their unforgettable contributions to the preservation and growth of Arabic literature. The following two links deal with Shibli’s first encounter of Beirut and his fondness for coffee shops, respectively: https://youtu.be/mqutTC1d0pg https://youtu.be/kYD-numQXGs
Intellectual-Scientific-Literary State in Beirut. Contributions of Christians to Arabic Literature Societies and Newspapers in Ottoman Beirut (with English Subtitles)
Allama Shibli begins this narrative with a description of the contributions made by Christians to the Arabic language, who, in his words, “deserve our thanks in every way”. He adds, “These people have, with extreme effort, collected the classical diwans of Arabia from far and wide and have printed and published them.…Otherwise, neither their names nor even a trace of them was known to people.” In relation to the Christians, Muslim contributions are insignificant he notes. And asks in anguish: “O Muslims! Do you, too, have a sense of honor?” Astonished at the literary contributions of the local Christians, Allama Shibli asks the people, “Why do these people care so much for Arabic?” People said, “These people consider themselves of Arab descent and they take pride in this lineage.” On the books which have been written on history by the Christians in Beirut, Shibli opines that, “Because these people are quite familiar with European languages along with Arabic, their writings contain the comprehensiveness that is not found in the writings of Europeans.” He is quick to add that, “Of course, it is regrettable that the hue of religious prejudice is found in the writings of these Christians.” Nevertheless, he is liberal in showering praise on the Christian contributions He writes, “A separate book has been written on the scholars and poets of Lebanon alone, but it is regrettable, severely regrettable, that all the academic progress, composition, and writing, the whole of it, is exclusive to the Christians”. He moans that the “Muslims do not so much as touch these things.” Part one dealt briefly with the history of Beirut and cultural mores of this pluralistic society. Here is the link: https://youtu.be/LlnAdhYQuPY
Educational Status of Muslims in Ottoman Beirut (with English Subtitles)
In this third episode of the segment dealing with Allama Shibli’s sojourn in Beirut, on his way back from Constantinople, the Allama provides extensive details of the prominent madrasas in Beirut as the well as the madrasas dedicated for women. What is very striking about his observations is the pathetic state of Muslims in the field of education. He substantiates this with figures of Muslim schools, students and teachers; juxtaposing the same with data about schools, students and teachers of other communities in Beirut. The difference is stark and depressing. Shibli also mentions that the Muslims are far behind the Christians in other fields like publication of newspapers, running printing houses and in commerce; despite the fact that, in Shibli’s words, Beirut in a centre of an Islamic Empire and the relationship between Muslims and Christians is one of ruler and ruled. He concludes, very poignantly, with the verse of the Quran: “So take a lesson from this, O people of insight!” (59:2)I The complete series of the Safarnamah published this far, consisting of 30 episodes, can be viewed from this link: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2…
Societies and Newspapers in Ottoman Beirut (with English Subtitles)
In this episode, fourth in the series, Shibli narrates details of the Syrian College of Science, an institution established by the Christians of Ottoman Beirut. He tours all departments of the University, including the Printing House. After watching the process at the press, Shibli says that it is no wonder that Beirut is world-famous for its high-quality printing. On the medical college that is affiliated to the Syrian Science University, he is wonderstruck. He writes, “I am fairly certain that there is not even one college in all of Hindustan greater than, rather, even equal to it.” A pertinent observation made by Shibli during the course of his visit is that, “It is a wondrous thing that although the founders of the university are generally Christians… there is still a selection of the Glorious Quran in the curriculum of literature, which proves that they, too, acknowledge the incomparability of the Glorious Quran in eloquence and rhetorical elegance. The University’s weekly Arabic journal records its admiration of the visit of Allama Shibli in these words: “We met in recent days with the gentleman scholar al-Shaikh Shibli al-Nu’mani, head instructor of the Arabic sciences in the town of Aligarh in the country of Hind, and so we found him to be a man of many sciences [great learning]. And he received a
Majidiyah medal of the fourth order. He resided in the royal capital for a period of three months before coming to Beirut. And he set out today to visit Jerusalem, then from there to Egypt, then from there to the country of Hind.”
Shibli continues his narration of society and people in Ottoman Beirut. In this episode, he lists the most famous charitable and literary societies in Beirut, the purpose for which each society was established and the religious groups to which they are affiliated. Allama Shibli is astonished that not a single society is run by any Muslim group. He says, sarcastically, that, “Muslims have not cared to touch this ‘useless’ business”. He mentions about the popular newspapers in Beirut and points out that just two of these publications are owned by Muslims. He also observes that on account of the press censorship those day, the newspapers carry only ordinary news. However, he notes, “literary and scientific journals come out with great splendor; al- Safa and al-Muqtataf, in particular, were journals of such grandeur that they matched the magazines of Europe.” Mention is also made of a small observatory that Shibli found in Beirut. “Data gathered by observation is sent to Constantinople by wire every day, and from there it is published in Europe and elsewhere,” he notes.
In part six of the segment dealing with Shibli’s observations on Ottoman Beirut, (Ep.33) he speaks of the scholars and eminent men of Beirut who he met. Once word got around, people would visit the Allama in his residence. He recounts a delightful gathering over dinner he had in the company of eminent men of Beirut in the house of one ‘Abdul Basit al-Unsi. The manner in which food was served and partaken of was on European patterns. On this, Allama Shibli tells his friend, Shaikh Tahir Maghribi, that if such [the way food was being eaten] had been the case in Hindustan, a fatwa (religious ruling ) ‘man tashabbaha bi-qaumin’ (one who imitates a people becomes of them) would have been issued. Tahir al-Magribi replied, “This is appropriate in those regions because Islamic governance no longer exists there. For this reason, it is necessary to maintain traditions … to guard against the diminishing of the general influence of religion. But in Islamic states, there is no need for such unwanted things.” Shibli briefly mentions about his indisposition due to the humidity in Beirut. He speaks highly of Dr.’Abd al-Rahman al-Unsi, who “is among the famous doctors of this place and has acquired the highest degree in the medical college of Egypt.” He regrets that his ill health deprived him of the opportunity to visit Tripoli which is renown for its Islamic heritage. The thing that caused Shibli great consternation was the Mughanna or the house of cabaret, where European women would dance, play music and unabashedly flirt with their male customers. Disgusted at the shamelessness on display, Shibli ends with an invocation, Na’uzu billahi min shururi anfusina wa min sayyati a’malina.
Leaving Constantinople, Allama Shibli stopped over at Beirut. After an eventful stay in Ottoman Beirut, which provided Allama Shibli with an opportunity to study the educational institutions, the literary contributions of the Christian community there and the social and literary organizations, apart from meeting with important scholars and eminent personalities, he sets sail to Jaffa and from there to Jerusalem. In this episode, which is the seventh of this segment, and 34th overall, Shibli tells us about the hassles of the journey by boat from Beirut to Jaffa. He also shares a brief history of Jaffa, which came under Islamic rule in the 13th year of the Hijrah. From here he sets off to Jerusalem on a horse-driven coach. Shibli talks of the sights and scenery of the lands he visited enroute to Jerusalem. At Jerusalem, Shibli stays in the Indian Zawiyah or hospice, on the advise of the sheikh of the zawaiya, who advises against staying in a hotel since it is considered undignified. An interesting account of his visit to the famous places in Jerusalem will follow as a separate segment. The following is a link to the playlist containing the episodes dealing with the stay in Beirut and other previous episodes. https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL293w0xtAnQlzathlB_XsAfyo8l0wS6oM